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‘Old’ mining licences put the environment at risk

Media release
21 October 2009

TO: News desks, environment and energy reporters

‘Old’ mining licences put the environment at risk – Environment Commissioner

“There are over 100 old mining licenses with weak and outdated conditions around New Zealand” said Dr Jan Wright, the Commissioner for the Environment, upon releasing her report Stockton revisited: The mine and the regulatory minefield. “I am asking Ministers to take action by reviewing these licenses to ensure that they provide adequate environmental protection”.

“Over a hundred mining licences granted before 1991 are operating on outdated rules from before the days of the Resource Management Act and Crown Minerals Act” said the Commissioner.

“These old licences cover a combined area over three quarters the size of Lake Taupo, across the country, although most are on the West Coast and in the Waikato,” said Dr Wright.

“The ‘old’ licences with their weak environmental protection are from an era when we thought children didn’t need to ‘buckle-up’ in cars. Over time our values about the environment have shifted as have our concerns about child safety, yet the environmental regime of these ‘old’ licences still dates back to that former time. Many of the licences will not expire for more than 20 years.

“I have made a number of recommendations to Ministers. My intent is to provide them with some practical ways to make progress on this problem of old mining licences, and I look forward to their response, “said the Commissioner.

“I encountered this issue while investigating the environmental performance of Solid Energy’s mine on the Stockton Plateau, on the West Coast, which I am pleased to report is much improved. I commend them on their efforts.”

“Mining of some minerals and other resources will continue to be a part of New Zealand’s future, but we must ensure that it is done with far more sensitivity, discrimination, and good environmental management than has been done in the past”

Copies of the report are available at the Commissioner’s website: www.pce.parliament.nz


What are the types of environmental risk that exist?
The extent of the environmental damage caused by a mine is dependent on many factors. In general, opencast mines are more damaging than underground mines. The environmental impact also varies with the mineral being mined. Coal mines that expose sulfide in rocks to the air can make the groundwater more acidic. This acidic water flows into streams and rivers, so environmental damage can extend far beyond the boundary of the mine. Gold mining operations can result in cyanide in streams which is worse than sediment from a quarry.

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